Discussion Group: Translating Walis Nokan: Intertextuality, Hybridity, and Minimalism in Contemporary Flash Fiction from Taiwan

During this event, the Discussion Group hosted Coraline Jortay who discussed the challenges she faced when translating the flash fiction of contemporary Atayal writer Walis Nokan. Starting from three key characteristics of flash fiction, its shortness, hybridity, and intertextuality, she examined how flash fiction has been taken up in Taiwan to disrupt “indigenous literature” as a category where writers have historically been judged against their mastery of Chinese, and to move beyond readership expectations of indigenous writers as vectors of a certain notion of “cultural authenticity.” In this context, how are we to translate wordplay that purposefully deconstructs the Chinese script, when translation itself shifts between non-alphabetical and alphabetical languages? How are we to translate shortness as inherent to a genre into wordy languages such as French where concision does not necessarily work as well? And how to render the kind of global intertextuality that recurs everywhere in Walis Nokan’s stories, opening up conversations between figures real or imaginary as diverse as Borges, Don Quixot, Dracula, and Orwell?


Coraline Jortay is a Wiener-Anspach Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oxford China Centre and a Junior Research Fellow of Wolfson College. Her current monograph project investigates the circulation of the literary debates that followed the “invention” of gendered pronouns in Chinese in the late 1910s, mapping their afterlives in pronominal re-appropriations in twentieth and twenty-first century Sinophone literature, including postcolonial and queer literatures. She is also a published translator of contemporary Sinophone literature into French (including works by Tong Wei-ger, Kan Yao-ming, Dorothy Tse, and Walis Nokan), with a taste for poetry and short fiction.